Tag: nene valley

Site Diary: Summer Week 12

The final week of the 2016 season dawned with blue skies, bright sunshine and warm temperatures- the last gasps of summer. It made us appreciate quite how beautiful the church would have been in its medieval peak, with a crown of green glazed roof tiles, it would have practically glowed. The season’s end clearly got us all rather whimsical, but what everyone actually wants to hear about is the archaeology- so let’s get to it!

A good start to the day, in our beautiful site cabin

We had a mixture of newbies and regulars on site this week but it also marked the return of the other half of our favourite Italian Dynamic Duo- Elisa! Doing what she does best, she sprang straight into action recording an infant burial before moving onto some pre-graveyard deposits, picking apart the stratigraphy of a few features that have been visible, but not free to excavate for nearly three years! Elisa’s rubble and tile filled 18th century pit soon bore finds fruit with a lovely medieval vessel rim and handle fragment followed quickly by another fragment from the same vessel.  We allowed ourselves to hope that the rest would appear, but archaeology rarely does what you want it to!

Elisa proving once again how capable she is at paperwork

Elisa’s unusual medieval pottery fragments fit together perfectly!

Federica, our other skilled Italian archaeologist, continued working this week on exposing the coffin stain for her adult burial- and boy was this a tall fellow! Every time someone checked on her the coffin had crept further and further until about six foot of coffin had been exposed. As the skeleton was carefully exposed, the skull suggested that we were looking at an adult  male who died relatively young.

He just kept growing! Federica excavating the coffin of a young adult male

Federica also recovered a rather phenomenal piece of colour coat Roman pottery, complete with lettering! It was quite an unusual sherd, so we asked around our archaeology contacts and a helpful individual offered an example of another recently discovered Roman cup. It doesn’t take an expert to spot the similarity and this is incredibly helpful as it helps us visualise how the whole of Federica’s cup would have looked.

Federica’s pottery shard (above) and an example from another site (below)

Nene Valley, or colour-coat wares, were made in numerous sites, with a large production centre in the Nene Valley in Cambridgeshire. There is some similarity with this pottery type and wares from the Lower Rhineland. The production of this pottery was based in Durobrivae, a fortified garrison town now known as Water Newton, but there were also kilns in the surrounding area. The wares began to appear in the mid 2nd century but remained prolific for much of the Roman occupation of Britain.

By the Rectory, Lynne, in her second week with us, has been joined by Rose and Poppy as she continues to expose the construction cut that she and Sophia identified last week. The three made quick work of cleaning and recording the construction cut and soon began to excavate the backfill so that we can finally ‘unlock’ the rectory walls and remove them (a context is only free to dig when all related features that post-date it have been dealt with).

Lynne, Poppy & Rose busy excavating their rectory wall construction backfill

The three made a good team and exposed the footings of the rectory in record time with Lynne and her keen eyes spying a coin in the backfill which makes this the third week in a row where a Roman coin has been recovered. She was naturally delighted with her find!

Lynne’s fantastic find!

Katie and Emma this week returned to their gradually deepening quest into the medieval period and it was getting more awkward and tighter by the moment- most people wouldn’t want to spend this much time down a hole with their sister (believe me, I have two of them) but Katie and Emma did a wonderful job navigating the tricky working conditions while exposing more medieval levelling layers.

Katie and Emma getting ever deeper…

Clive and Alistair, towards the center of the site, were busy unpicking a complex sequence of medieval dumps. These are important features to attempt to piece together a picture of the use and occupation along the street running down the side of All Saints Church.

Clive and Alistair defining a pit they have come across

With a sequence of complex deposits comes much paperwork, so Clive and Alistair also have to keep up to date their pile of paperwork, as you can see getting a good use out of planning frame.

Alistair and Clive planning their medieval dumps

Also this week we were visited for a day by Maree and Debra from Australia, that is dedication to archaeology! They worked on a robber cut that was started by Zachary earlier in the week.

Maree and Debra experiencing the joys of digging in British summer!

Taking advantage of some rainy weather we also got a chance to catch up on some finds bagging, this gave us a chance to bag up properly one of the star finds of the 2015 season. This delightful late-20th/early-21st century artefact was recovered from present day topsoil and has been affectionately called ‘Creepy Baby’.

Creepy Baby attempting to get out of his/her bag!

Week 12 was a fantastic week that saw us really starting to get into the Medieval deposits, allowing us to create a story for how people used the site before it became a graveyard. Thanks to our fantastic team this week for helping us to see out the end of this year’s excavations. Now to start planning what we will do through winter and what will come in Archaeology Live! next year. Hope to see you there!


Week 12 team shot


2017 Site Diary: Weeks 1 & 2

The ancient streets of York can be a bustling melee of tourists and locals, battling for space beneath the jettied floors of listing medieval buildings. As with many such cities, however, there are many hidden snickleways down which one can briefly escape the clamour of modern life. Tucked between the imposing church of All Saints, North Street and its neighbouring row of 14th century cottages, the well worn paving of Church Lane is one such place to find quiet and sanctuary in the heart of the city. That was, of course, until the archaeologists arrived…

Church Lane hiding in the shade of All Saints, North Street. Image courtesy of David Dodwell

In 2014, the Archaeology Live! training excavation broke ground away from the familiar surrounds of the Hungate development for the first time in almost a decade. While the Hungate project had been a whirlwind tour covering two millennia of York’s past, the time had come for a change and the All Saints, North Street excavation proved to be an excellent successor. Three years, hundreds of archaeological contexts and thousands of finds later, the team returned to the trench for one last hurrah before once again moving to pastures new.

Here is the tale of our final adventure at All Saints, North Street and it all began with… weeding. LOTS of weeding.

Trench of the Triffids.

Abandoned for nine months, the newly verdant trench had taken on a life of its own, leaving site manager Arran the unenviable task of clearing away the greenery. Predictably, this task was carried out on the hottest day of the year but several gallons of mud, sweat and tears later, the site was back to its sparkling self and the stage was set.

Week One

The 2017 season marked a big step forward for YAT archaeologist Katie, as it marked her first season as an Archaeology Live! supervisor. This was a well deserved benchmark for Katie, who had dug at All Saints successively as a trainee, a placement and, finally, professional staff.

With rain forecast, Arran and Katie flew the new team through the rigours of the site induction and got straight to work!

Katherine, Molly, Calum and Adrienne set to work.

Katherine, Molly, Calum and Adrienne set to work on a pair of burials.

Grave Concerns

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, York was faced with a rapidly growing population, a development that placed extra strain on the city’s already burgeoning churchyards. Churches like All Saints and St Crux, Shambles were forced to acquire additional land in which to inter their deceased parishioners and much of the current excavation area was consecrated in 1826. By 1854, all of York’s churchyards were closed by order. Reports of wells being tainted by liquids draining from burial grounds were rife and reform was badly needed. Despite this relatively brief lifespan, the burial ground has proved to be densely occupied.

Discussions with the church over the close season had brought about a change to our approach to the site’s 19th century burials. Three years of excavation had brought about a good understanding of the site’s deposit model and over seventy separate burials had been identified and recorded. In 2015 and 2016, the team had been requested to carefully lift shallow lying infant and juvenile burials for re-interment within the ossuary of the church, while deeper lying adult burials had been recorded, re-covered and left in-situ.  This new knowledge of the depth and location of the burials proved that the proposed re-development of the site would effectively destroy all of the site’s inhumations. In response, permission was granted by the church authorities to exhume the remains of all individuals buried on-site with a view for them to be temporarily housed within the church. Prior to any future construction work taking place, the remains will then be re-buried in the same site, but at a greater depth. This considered solution will allow for the site to enter a new chapter of occupation, whilst also respecting the remains of the individuals who chose to be buried there and protecting them from any damage.

This process will also allow for the remains to be studied archaeologically, revealing tell-tale signs of age, gender, illness and lifestyle. With scant historic records regarding the burial ground surviving, it was down to our trainees to learn as much as possible about the lives of the parishioners of All Saints, North Street.

Steve, Catriona, Andy and Stephen excavating a pair of neighbouring graves.

With the further investigation of the burial ground being a primary goal of the 2017 season, the whole team set to work on four of the site’s burials. Each of these individuals had been at least partially exposed in previous seasons, before being re-covered beneath a cushion of sieved earth and a protective wooden board. The first task at hand was to remove our own 21st century backfill material and to fully clean the delicate remains below. With a mix of experienced and brand new trainees, Arran and Katie were delighted by the team’s suitably patient and considered trowel work.

Working with human remains demands a high level of care and respect and each inhumation will come with its own unique challenges. From a young person in their early teens to a very elderly female, the four burials under investigation in week one allowed the team to get a good grasp of the varied ways that skeletal remains can tell us their stories.

The well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

Cleaning the well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

A defining character of practically all of the burials at All Saints has been the ubiquity of timber coffins, the majority coming complete with decorative metal panels. All four burials from week one featured clear evidence of these coffins, with remains of timber surviving remarkably well after around 160 years in the ground.

Molly and a freshly unearthed button.

Alongside the fascinating insights into burial practice, the backfills of the graves were also yielding some interesting discoveries. As a grave is usually backfilled with the earth that was upcast from its excavation, this material will contain evidence of what was happening in years prior to the cutting of the grave.

The provenance of individual objects recovered from these backfilling deposits can therefore be quite varied. For example, a 19th century individual digging a grave may accidentally drop something a contemporary object such as a coin. It is, however, equally possible that the digging of the hole may unearth much older artefacts within spoil that is briefly piled beside the grave and ultimately used to cover the coffin.

Fittingly, week one saw some very interesting objects discovered within grave backfills.

Keen-eyed Molly spotted a lovely little button that had been skilfully crafted from a piece of animal bone. It is even possible that the object could have been manufactured in one of the workshops known to have occupied the site in the decades prior to its consecration!


Stephen and a rather lovely architectural fragment.

In the centre of the trench, Stephen and Andy’s grave yielded a beautifully worked piece of medieval masonry that may once have adorned part of the church.

As everyone knows, there is far more to archaeology than just digging, and the team’s week was broken up with training in other important aspects of the discipline. Alongside seminars on pottery, small finds, stratigraphy and conservation, the team also processed finds and learned survey techniques. With unpredictable weather, the team were grateful to have the church as an impromptu site hut and teaching space!

Transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

Catriona and Katherine transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

Katie walking Steve and Catriona through the compilation of detailed context cards.

Katie walking Steve and Catriona through the compilation of detailed context cards.

After the long wait for the digging season to start, week one seemed to fly by in a blur! By the end of the week, one individual had already been lifted and the coffins within the other three graves were being recorded.

Thanks to the hard work and professional attitude of the week one team, the 2017 season got off to a flying start!

The week one team.

The week one team.

Week Two

In the second week of the summer excavation, we were joined by a mix of new starters and a few familiar faces. Alongside the new intake of trainees, Arran and Katie were joined by Archaeology Live! legend Dave (The Dig), who became the first placement to join the 2017 team.

A busy trench!

A busy trench!

Work continued on the four burials from week one and as the grave cuts grew ever deeper, the team were forced to employ increasingly unusual digging positions to reach the delicate remains within.

It's all a bit of a reach for Calum and Molly.

It’s all a bit of a reach for Calum and Molly.

While Calum and Molly carefully exposed an adult individual within a well-preserved coffin, returnee Jan and new starter Tony recovered the remains of a newly empty coffin and began to clean up the grave cut for recording. In doing so, they became the first archaeologists of the season to ask what would become a frequently asked question – is another individual buried within this grave plot?

Jan and Tony squeezing into a tight spot while investigating a grave cut.

Jan and Tony squeezing into a tight spot while investigating a grave cut.

Many of the burials at All Saints have been laid to rest in communal plots, with coffins buried one on top of the other. In some cases, it seems multiple individuals were interred at once, while in other cases graves seem to have been intermittently re-opened. The graves with multiple occupants may represent family plots or efficient use of the site’s limited space.

With their skeleton and coffin lifted, Jan and Tony would now have to carefully clean the base of the grave cut to ascertain whether anyone else was interred below. In this case, the pair were met with firm, intact stratigraphy at the base as opposed to looser, more mixed grave backfill – this was a single grave.

Molly lending a hand to Jenni and Sam on a complicated burial sequence.

Molly lending a hand to Jenni and Sam on a complicated burial sequence.

Elsewhere in the trench, 2016 veterans Sam and Jenni were dealing with a particularly tricky burial. This was at the very least a double inhumation and when the coffin of the underlying grave had eventually decayed and collapsed, the individual had slumped downwards into the earlier cut.

As a result of this, the skeleton was laid in a very unusual position with the right arm and the right side of the torso suspended awkwardly up to 200mm above the rest of the body. Furthermore, the remains of the lower individual were situated directly beneath those of the one above; Jenni and Sam would have to clean the skeleton with great care to avoid any confusion over which bones belonged to which person.

Calum, Jenni and Sam hard at work on a double inhumation.

Calum, Jenni and Sam hard at work on a double inhumation.

With the help of Calum and Molly, Sam and Jenni were able to expose the entirety of the skeleton and were well underway with the recording by the end of the week – a very impressive achievement! The burial was clearly of an adult individual, but damage to the skeleton during the collapse of the coffins made it very difficult to define its sex.

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

At the northern end of the trench, Steve and Catriona also managed to fully expose a skeleton, revealing some fascinating information about person’s health. The skeleton was clearly male and unusually robust, with exaggerated muscle attachments  suggesting that the person would have been highly active. With these skeletal abnormalities and railways, sawmills and flour mills close by, the man was clearly employed in a physical job.

Catriona cleaning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

In spite of this active lifestyle, however, evidence from the teeth and pelvis would suggest that the person was only around 45 at the time of death – a sobering reminder of the low life expectancy of the time.

No cause of death was apparent, but the joints were extremely worn and there were many issues with the teeth. Clearly, this individual would have lived with a great deal of pain.


Steve and Catriona’s burial was in such a good state of preservation that the pair carried out a photogrammetric survey as well as creating a traditional plan drawing. Watch this space for the results when they’re processed!

Conservator Charlotte leading a tour of YATs conservation lab.

Conservator Charlotte leading a tour of YAT’s conservation lab.

The week two team kept up to the excellent standard of work set by the previous team and dealt admirably with some challenging conditions. Many questions were answered and the week ended on a real high when Molly was offered her first ever professional contract by Cotswold Archaeology! Over her three weeks as an Archaeology Live! trainee, Molly has learned a lot and we wish her the best in her career!

Good luck Molly!

Good luck Molly!

Week two succeeded in bringing us closer to the lives of the people we are studying at All Saints, reminding us of the unimaginable difficulties that people would have faced and none of this would be possible without the hard work of our trainees.

The week two team.

The week two team.

So, there we were. Two weeks down and it was like we’d never left. After three years, the chance to interact more directly with the human remains had proved to be highly evocative. Archaeology’s unique ability to recover intricate details of peoples’ lives can be astonishing. After just two weeks, the careful work of our team was already revealing the incredible amount of hard work that made up the lives of some of All Saints’ 19th century parishioners. We were able to learn more about the health worries that would have weighed on their minds, even down to the particulars of aches and pains. While the excavation of a burial ground obviously tells us mainly about how peoples’ lives ended, the remains can also tell us how they lived.

Over the coming weeks, there would be no slowing down. Watch this space for further updates!

In the meantime, onwards and downwards!




Site Diary: Summer Week 8

With only 4 weeks left of the 2016 summer season of Archaeology Live! it was full steam ahead at All Saints. Our Week 8 trainees made great progress on a number of burials and medieval to post-medieval deposits. They also had a stellar week for finds during several of our washing and bagging sessions, and we have now officially found gold*!


Yes, that’s right, on one of our finds bagging sessions a keen-eyed trainee noticed something different about a fragment of pot. Despite the sherd looking like so many other pieces we’ve found at All Saints, this sherd, upon closer inspection, had glinting little pieces of gold leaf on it!

A pottery sherd with gold leaf - fancy!

A pottery sherd with gold leaf – fancy!

However the streak of good luck didn’t stop there, as our other finds processing (washing and bagging) sessions revealed even more stellar finds. These included 2 different styles of Nene Valley cups – a type of Roman pottery, as well as a medieval flagon, a couple of possible brooches, a piece of pottery with residue still stuck on the inside, and a possible medieval quern stone! One of our Roman wares even came with a horse’s bottom on it! It would have originally formed part of a hunting scene, which was a common motif on several types of Roman pottery vessels.

A horse bottom occupies part of the hunting scene on this Roman Nene Valley cup.

A horse bottom occupies part of the hunting scene on this Roman Nene Valley cup.


Daniel looking very pleased with his copper alloy object - possibly a brooch.

Daniel looking very pleased with his copper alloy object – possibly a brooch.

A close up of Victoria's pottery sherd complete with residue!

A close up of  Victoria’s pottery sherd complete with residue!









Finds processing consists of either washing trays of finds after a context has been completely dug, or sorting finds into categories of animal bone, pottery, glass, shell, human bone etc. and bagging them up accordingly.  We generally have one bagging or washing session each day so that trainees become familiar with the process, they become better at recognising the type of finds they could come across whilst digging, and it means we stay on top of our ever mounting pile! Both processes also involve looking out for finds that may be a little different – such as copper alloy objects, worked bone and so on as these get bagged separately as small finds. They are all labelled very tidily as they then go straight to our finds department for analysis. Having regular washing and bagging sessions also allows trainees to be even more involved with the whole on-site archaeological process.

Jagoda was also pleased with her copper alloy object - it could be a brooch, coin or some kind of fitting!

Jagoda was pleased with her copper alloy object – it could be a brooch, coin or some kind of fitting!


A possible medieval quern stone.

A possible medieval quern stone.










Away from finds processing, progress in the trench was also very good in week 8. We had a number of people working on a range of burials and a couple of other teams working on our earlier medieval and post-medieval features.

Continuing trainees Leah and Charlotte finished off recording their large adult burial and covered it over with a deep layer of sieved soil before moving onto another nearby burial plot. As they started cleaning the trample layer off the top of the backfill the girls came across a posthole/small pit. They quickly got to work on recording it, digging it and doing the same for the cut. They made a great team, and managed to recover a nice range of pottery and a rather curious iron hook from their feature.

Leah, placement Katie, and Charlotte proving that recording can be fun!

Leah, placement Katie, and Charlotte proving that recording can be fun!

Leah with her iron hook, and Charlotte with some of the pottery from their feature.

Leah with her iron hook, and Charlotte with some of the pottery from their feature.








Leah revealing the edge of her coffin.

Leah revealing the edge of her coffin.

With that feature excavated they continued with their grave backfill and by the end of the week had began to reveal a well preserved coffin from the 19th century burial phase.

Also working on the C19th burials were new starters Victoria and Jagoda. As well as their lovely finds from the processing sessions, they spent the start of their week carefully recording and lifting an infant burial. Once the remains had been put safely away they recovered the remaining pieces of coffin. All of the coffin is collected and kept with the remains for reburial within the church. After this infant was lifted Victoria and Jagoda carried on excavation in the much larger plot – this appears to be another family grave and so there will be an adult burial further down, although there may be more burials above.

Victoria and Jagoda gathering the remains of a coffin.

Victoria and Jagoda gathering the remains of a coffin.

Nearby new starters Libby and Alice were also working on a burial, however this one was at a much lower depth and so cleaning and recording were quite challenging. The girls were more than up to the task! With that inhumation recorded they re-covered the individual, who did not needed to be lifted due to the depth at which they were buried. They moved down into ‘Contrary Corner’ where they began work on a mortar filled pit with a piece of very nice medieval pottery laying just on top of this deposit. This particular piece of pottery has been looking at us for 2 whole seasons now but we have not been able to pick up as a number of later features have had to be dealt with first – hopefully next week Alice and Libby will get to lift it!

Alice, on the left, takes measurements for Libby to plot with our placement Ellen.

Alice,  (left), takes measurements for Libby to plot with our placement Ellen.

Alice and Libby trowelling their mortar-filled pit. Can you spot the green glazed medieval pot?

Alice and Libby trowelling their mortar-filled pit. Can you spot the green glazed medieval pot?







New starters Daisy and Kate were another pair working on the C19th burial horizon. Near to where Leah and Charlotte were working against the Old Rectory walls,  Kate and Daisy cleaned up and recorded a pair of infant grave cuts that had been lifted in week 7.

Daisy and Kate adding final touches to their levels and plans of their grave cuts.

Daisy and Kate adding final touches to their levels and plans of their grave cuts.

Kate, in the foreground, and Daisy cleaning back an earlier graveyard soil layer near the Old Rectory walls.

Kate, in the foreground, and Daisy cleaning back an earlier graveyard soil layer near the Old Rectory walls.

After squaring away those records they started cleaning up a soil deposit that appears to predate the infant burials in this particular area, as the graves are cut through it. It’s likely that it is another graveyard soil deposit; a spread of material that is the result of graves being repeatedly opened.

The rest of this week’s trainees were all working on deposits pre-dating the beginning of the burial ground, including our tasters. Victoria and Linda, from Leeds and Australia respectively, came from near and far to work on an 18th century surface. As they peeled away a compacted mortar surface, a soft burnt sand layer emerged. Perhaps this relates to activities going on in the post-medieval workshops on Church Lane?

Our other week 8 tasters, Daniel and Tony, worked on a series of medieval dumping layers, as well as Daniel finding that rather nice copper alloy brooch in finds washing. They managed to clean, record and excavate a trampled layer of refuse as well and gained a clearer idea about the sequence of deposition in this area.

Victoria and Linda working on their 18th century deposits.

Victoria and Linda working on their 18th century deposits.

Daniel and Tony cleaning up a sequence of medieval dumps.

Daniel and Tony cleaning up a sequence of medieval dumps.







Like Victoria and Linda, James and Ellie were also working in the post-medieval workshop horizon. They were excavating a bedding material for a hornworkers shop floor, and as this peeled away yet another mortar surface was revealed. James and Ellie managed to get this deposit fully recorded and started excavating again by the end of the week.

Ellie and James revealing their mortar layer.

Ellie and James revealing their mortar layer.

Digging even further back in time were other new starters Rick and Jack, who continued work on a medieval dump sequence started by Colin and Sam in week 7. Over the course of the week they got through an impressive 4 individual dumping events, thoroughly recording each one. What they also discovered through their levelling was that each dumping layer sloped down and away from the church, which gives us an idea of what the medieval horizon around All Saints may have looked like, perhaps with the church standing taller than everything around it. If you remember from previous site diaries, we have also found a large amount of bright green glazed medieval roof tiles that paint a picture of a very impressive green-roofed medieval All Saints that would have stood out  in a very dramatic fashion. Credit goes to Rick and Jack for making so much headway through the medieval ground level and shifting a lot of earth, as well as putting some quality records together!

Jack and Rick excavating one of their 4 medieval dumping layers.

Jack and Rick excavating one of their 4 medieval dumping layers.

Week 8 was impressive all round, for excavation, recording quality and of course those star finds, and it’s all down to the trainees’ hard work. Thanks must also go to the placements for making everything at the dig run smoothly as we wouldn’t be able to do it without them either.

The week 8 team.

The week 8 team.

That’s all for now, week 9 to follow soon…


P.S. It’s not all hard work for the staff and placements, as when we finish on site for the day we and the trainees will often head to a pub, for a walk that ends up in a pub, or for food in a pub/bar – you get the idea. On Wednesdays Arran, Toby and co. play football, so sometimes if the weather is good Becky and the placements take any trainees who want to come along for 2-4-1 cocktails in a nice little bar. Wednesday of week 8 just happened to be my birthday so some of us got a little carried away with that offer…

Wednesday evening...

Wednesday evening…

...Thursday morning.

…Thursday morning.


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